ERIK: How are you feeling today, and how does the future look like for Timothy Alvarez?
TIM: Well you know Erik there is no guarantees in life. I am a firm believer that we are defined more by our failures than our successes … A little pain and suffering is a good thing because it makes you think what you want to commit your time and energy for. So although no one likes to go through these kinds of experiences, there are signs and messages about what kind of character you have.
I am also a firm believer that your adversity doesn’t define your character — it reveals your character. So this really shows what kind of character I am. There are certain things that I value and are important and nonnegotiable, and I am hoping that those values allow me to take the next step. And I really believe that every adversity allows you to be a better person on the other end of it, although it can be painful.
E: What does the outpour of support from the NDSU community mean to you?
T: Well it is humbling, touching and it is validating. Very, very touching. I love what I do. I love spending time with students I think if we do anything we help students find their passions, that all starts by asking questions and starting conversations. It has been really humbling, it gives me the impression that maybe a few things that I did worked.
E: For the NDSU student who sees this and is possibly not understanding it, what do you say to them to reassure them the students are still the focus here at NDSU?
T: Good question. I would encourage students to be involved and actively involved. The culture on this campus has been really very student focused. I think it really is also going to be up to the student to play an active role in ensuring that culture continues. Can it continue with a different culture and different structure? I hope so. I hope it is more about the people then it is about the structure.
E: Is the hashtag game going to change at all?
T: (laughing) I hope not. You know I am who I am. I’m the half-full kind of guy. So wherever I go the thing that brings me joy is having conversations with students and talking to students. I always tell staff that we are in the business of developing people. So in my mind part of my job is to commit time and resources and energy to get staff to commit time and energy to students. And it starts one conversation at a time. So do I think that will change? I hope not because that is who I am.
What I have found over a period of time is that sometimes those little things matter. There is a concept that a lot of people don’t get but the concept is called validation. It is basically believing in somebody. I find it very fascinating what happens, particularly with students like me. I am a first generation college student, low-income. My mom went ‘til the seventh grade; my dad went ‘til the sixth. So they didn’t understand high school let alone college. So I find this whole process of coming to college that it can be terribly liberating, but I also suggest that there are populations on campus that maybe have never had that opportunity or have never had anyone believe in them.
And I find it really fascinating when it happens that students are a little apprehensive but know that somebody believes in them. And sometimes it is as simple as posting on Facebook saying, “Kid you got a lot of courage, that took a lot of courage for you to come in and share.” And how they respond to that — I find that terribly powerful. I also think it goes back to I hope that if people are authentic and genuine and they authentically care about you that matters much more.
E: What does NDSU mean to you?
T: Oh gosh, I was not looking for a job when the former vice president called telling me I had to apply for his job. At the point, I was like, ‘I love you buddy, but I don’t want to be in North Dakota.’ But for some of the same reason, you said that’s why I came here, because I found this place to be very inviting. People genuinely care about everybody else and want you to be successful. But then when I came and had the opportunity to interact with students, students love this campus and they have this great affinity to campus.
Now, that happens on a lot of campuses, but this is a pretty special place. I think part of my challenge to staff is having them think we are more than a frozen tundra and a wood chipper. Right? There is more to this campus than that and it really has to do with people who are engaged and concerned about others.
E: Bow Tie Thursday is going to continue, right?
T: Ah, yes. No matter where I go. You know it is kind of a fluke thing. But you know sometimes that is how things happen. I was at my previous campus and one of my coworkers said hey, let’s do a bow tie on a Thursday. We happened to do it and people would ask about it, why are you guys wearing bow ties? Maybe we should continue this thing and that is kind of where it all started.
E: How many bow ties do you have?
T: Oh gosh. You know I usually only wear them once a week. So I probably have between 30 to 40 or more. It usually takes a whole year to get through them.
E: In 20 years how do you think student affairs will be remembered?
T: I would hope that sometime down the road if budget permits it and the situation turns around that they are able to reinstate student affairs. I do believe they are valuable components to a campus. I believe that a lot of what happens on a college campus happens outside of the classroom. I think part of our role truly was to help students make that connection between what happens in the classroom and applying it outside of the classroom. Through student government, residence life, student employment, I think it helps students make that connection.
E: What are your plans moving forward?
T: Well, we still have work to do. Again my job doesn’t change right now. We still have a lot of work to do. Continue to reach students and in my mind, we are trying to be very strategic and find those populations that aren’t as engaged or connected on campus as they should be.
There are certain segments, first-generation students, students of color, low-income students are students, based on recent research are probably not being as successful as we want them to be so we want to be a little bit more targeted. I still have some time to do that. I have had a number of colleagues who have reached out to me about other jobs that are open so I will be a little selective in where I will go and hopeful that I can find some other place that I can share my gifts with.
E: What is your favorite NDSU memory?
T: Man, that is a good question. Boy, there are so many. (Pauses.) Well here is one of the many. I remember when I first came here there was a student who appealed to come back to campus. And I denied his request and we had a conversation. And I wanted him to come back but I said you’ve got to demonstrate to me that you want to be here. And a year later he was here. And I had a conversation with him awhile back, and he is doing well. And that is one of those where I guess in my mind that particular story reminds me why I am here. Because often times normally when somebody sends us a letter we say, sorry you’ve been denied.
But I always put in my letter that here is the reason why and I would love to visit with you if you’d like to have a conversation. And so we had that conversation where I said I want you to be here. But I also can’t allow you to come if you are still behaving like you did before and if I did then shame on me. Right? So it is kind of one of those validating moments where I said demonstrate you want to be here. Show me. Prove me wrong and come back. And when you graduate I’m going to say I screwed up. But I am also going to be the first one to say because I challenged you I hope that allowed you to revisit what you really want to do. What you want to commit your time energy and resources to. And so he is here now. When I see him and visit with him it makes my heart warm.
I hope I challenged him to think about what he was doing, that some of his behavior wasn’t allowing him to be successful. And so it is sometimes the tough love but that is part of our responsibility. If aren’t able to have those serious conversations then shame on us I don’t think we are doing our job. That is one of them, where it really gets to me because he is going to be successful and I hope that I played a role in doing that.